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What is governance and what's it for?


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This is a second take on a philosophical understanding of governance, from the point of view of knowledge and power. Here I try to understand the concept and what's it for using three main thinkers: Habermas, Foucault and Merleau-Ponty. While I claim that this is not cherry-picking of concepts, the truth is that there is much more to be said about governance from the point of view of knowledge formation.

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What is governance and what's it for?

  1. 1. Whats governance andwhats it for?Dealing with the knowledge turn inpublic architecture and urban designChallenge the futureSpatialPlanning&StrategyPrepared by Roberto RoccoChair of Spatial Planning and Strategy. Dep. of UrbanismTU Delft
  2. 2. What do theories ofknowledge , communication andpower tell us about activitiesas designers of urban places?
  3. 3. Sir Peter Hall said:It is easier tosend a man tothe moon than toplan and designa city
  4. 4. Urban planners and designers aremoving away from ideas aboutsuperciliousness of the profession.We don’t know itall!
  5. 5. We are also moving awayfrom ideas like the ‘ideal city’Fra Carnevale, Ideal City, ca. 1480-84
  6. 6. which have influenced urban design thought for so longLe Corbusier, Ville Radieuse, 1931
  7. 7. Or are we?
  8. 8. The main task for urban planners and designersis to act as articulators of spatial visions andsolutions for sustainable and fair futuresFoster + Partners, Duisburg City Masterplan, Duisburg, Germany, 2007.The new masterplan for the inner city of Duisburg builds on the success of Foster + Partners’ Inner Harbourredevelopment and will strengthen Duisburg’s transformation into a vibrant, green and sustainable city.Available at:
  9. 9. Spatial visions and plans that...Deliver sustainable andfair futuresIncrease public goodsRedistribute gainsIncrease life chancesand prosperity
  10. 10. Planners and designers do not “make”cities. They are one of the agents thatact in order to steer the cityVideo shot of SIMCITY Feb 29th 2012 11:14 AM by Jeroen Amin
  11. 11. Foucault Merleau-PontyHabermas
  12. 12. Cherry picking concepts?
  13. 13. Theories of Knowledge and PowerNecessary elements to understandthe discourse about governance andwhat it is for
  14. 14. His theory of practical knowledge identifieshuman interaction as ‘communicative action’ anddescribes the political world as a basicallycommunicational world. Knowledge is eminentlyinter-subjective and relational.Habermas
  15. 15. FoucaultHe describes the (largelyfalse) distinction betweencompetent and incompetentagents.Some agents are deemed‘incompetent’ by theestablished powers as a wayto legitimate powerstructures.We need therefore to explore‘other’ knowledges.
  16. 16. Ponty’s phenomenologydescribes our cognitivelimitations to form ideas,which means that our ‘pointsof view’ results in limitedcapacity to apprehend all the‘sides’ of a problem.It is necessary therefore tomultiply the points of view tohave ‘true’ knowledge.Merleau-Ponty
  17. 17. If we assume that...Knowledge is INTER-SUBJECTIVE, as it happensbetween two or morereasoning beingsI You
  18. 18. It is easy to assume thatKnowledge is communicative, thatis, only through communicationcan we achieve knowledge that isrelevant or ‘usable’ or even TRUE
  19. 19. Knowledge needs to becommunicated and explainedin order to become tangible ,transmissible and verifiable
  20. 20. Even EXPERIENTIALKNOWLEDGE (acquired byexperience or LEARNING BYDOING) needs to materialise intoactions, things or words that thenneed to be discussed andmeasured against otherknowledge in order to becomeoperational in the physical world.
  21. 21. OtherwiseOne can neverknow whether whatone has is trueknowledge or justpure fancy
  22. 22. Knowledge that exists only inyour mind is IRRELEVANTBecause it is notoperating in the world
  23. 23. It is more than validationIt is not only about validating knowledge.Communicating knowledge will make it EXISTin the world and BE USEFUL.Communicating knowledge will also CHANGEYOUR knowledge, YOU and the person you arecommunicating with.
  24. 24. But what (the hell)does this have to dowith spatial planningand urban design?
  25. 25. If we acknowledge that urbanplanners and designers arepart of complex systems ofgovernance
  26. 26. Like soPrivateSectorCivilSocietyPublicSectorCivilPublicSectorCoalitionsbetween sectorsand within sectorsUrban planners&Designers
  27. 27. And if we then assume that...Urban planning and designing areinter subjective activities, where it isall about understanding the wishesand aspirations of multiple stakeholders to help them achieve THEIRobjectives...
  28. 28. ...while promoting prosperity,public goods, equal distributionof spatial opportunities andavoiding negative externalities
  29. 29. Then we must conclude that anyproject or spatial interventionneeds to have some degree ofparticipation of those stake holders
  30. 30. This means that group orsectorial needs and wishesmust be articulated intoplans and designs thatmaximize the common good
  31. 31. Why is thisproblematic?Photo by Sarah Cass at Flickr
  32. 32. There are no neutral or purely ‘technical’parameters or agents in urban development.All decisions in urban development are politicaldecisions, including yours(although you will certainly guide them bytechnical, ethical, aesthetic, economic and otherparameters)
  33. 33. Urban development lieswithin the realm ofpolitics, interests andnegotiations. Knowledgeand power are side byside, like in everythingelse.
  34. 34. Photo by at FlickrThe problem isthat not everyone has avoice in urban development.Some agents are more vocal(powerful) thanothers..
  35. 35. Not everybodyhas access to relevantknowledgePhoto by Sarah Cass at Flickr
  36. 36. Worsestill: the knowledge ofsome groups is consideredirrelevant or is notrecognized asknowledgePhoto by Sarah Cass at Flickr
  37. 37. ChildrenYoung girl by CubaGallery at Flickr
  38. 38. MothersPregnant woman by IzdelavaVabil at Flickr
  39. 39. ©RonaldVogelThe elderly
  40. 40. The homelessHomeless man in Tokyo by theeruditefrog at Flickr
  41. 41. ImmigrantsDiversity in the workplace, available at
  42. 42. White HeterosexualWestern MaleTechnocratanything but... Robert MosesImage source:
  43. 43. Governance
  44. 44. Governance (normative)PrivateSectorCivilSocietyPublicSectorPositive tension: checks and balances
  45. 45. Governance (descriptive)PrivateSectorCivilSocietyPublicSectorCivilPublicSectorCoalitionsbetween sectorsand within sectorsUrban planners&Designers
  46. 46. What does governance respond to?Knowledge is eminentlyinter-subjective andrelational.We needto explore ‘other’ kinds ofknowledge.It is necessary to multiply thepoints of view.
  47. 47. Governance entailsanunderstanding ofhow policy making andimplementation happensin complex societies,among a multitude ofagents with differentcapacities, differentknowledges anddifferentobjectives
  48. 48. Changes in governing(& planning and designing for cities)Emergence of a particular style ofdecision-making where there mustbe sustained co-ordination andcoherence among a wide variety ofactors with different purposes andviews of society, different types ofknowledge and different objectives.Adapted from Papadopoulos, 2007
  49. 49. Multilevel governance‘Involves a large numberof decision-makingarenas, differentiatedalong both functional andterritorial lines andinterlinked in a non-hierarchical way’Eberlein and Kerwer, 2004
  50. 50. Network governancePolicy-making and implementation is‘shared’ by:politicians, technocrats, experts,dedicated agencies, authorities, semiprivate and private companies, thepublic, NGOs, etcwhich constitute NETWORKS of policyand decision making across levels,territories, mandates
  51. 51. Governance (normative)PrivateSectorCivilSocietyPublicSectorPositive tension: checks and balances
  52. 52. Policy formulation and implementationNetworks involving:• public actors (politicians andadministrators) in different decision levels• technocrats• economic agents• interest representatives (civil + corporate)• OTHER STAKEHOLDERS (CIVIL SOCIETY)experts (e.g. planners)
  53. 53. New forms of steering complex governancenetworksDeliberationBargainingCompromise-seeking
  54. 54. How?
  55. 55. For inspiration: Candy Chang
  56. 56. Thanks for listening!Questions?
  57. 57. ReferencesALBRECHTS, L., HEALEY, P. & KUNZMANN, K. R. 2003. Strategic Spatial Planning and Regional Governance in Europe.Journal of the American Planning Association, 69, 113-129.EBERLEIN, B. & KERWER, D. 2004. New Governance in the European Union: A Theoretical Perspective. Journal of CommonMarket Studies, 42, 128.FAINSTEIN, S. 2000. New Directions in Planning Theory. Urban Affairs Review, 35, 451-478.FAINSTEIN, S. 2010. The Just City, Ithaca, Cornell University Press.FOUCAULT, M. 1984. The Foucault Reader, New York, Pantheon.HABERMAS, J. 1976. Communication and the Evolution of Society, Boston, Beacon Press.HABERMAS, J. 1991. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Boston, MIT Press.HARVEY, D. 2008. The Right to the City. New Left Review. New Left Review.HARVEY, D. 2009. Social Justice and the City, Athens (GA), The University of Georgia Press.HEALEY, P. 1997. Collaborative Planning: Shaping Places in Fragmented Societies, Vancouver, UBC Press.HEALEY, P. 2003. The communicative turn in planning theory and its implications for spatial strategy formation. In:CAMPBELL, S. & FAINSTEIN, S. (eds.) Readings in Planning Theory. Oxford: Blackwell.HILLIER, J. & HEALEY, P. 2008. Contemporary Movements in Planning Theory, Aldershot, Ashgate.LEFEBVRE, H. 1996. Writings on Cities, Oxford, Blackwell.MERLEAU-PONTY, M. 2012. Phenomenology of Perception, New York Routledge.MITCHELL, D. 2003. The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space, New York, Guilford.PAPADOPOULOS, Y. 2007. Problems of Democratic Accountability in Network and Multilevel Governance. European LawJournal, 13, 469-486.RHODES, R. A. W. 1996. The New Governance: Governing without Government. Political Studies, XLIV, 652-667.SEHESTED, K. 2009. Urban Planners as Network Managers and Metagovernors. Planning Theory and Practice, 10, 245-263.SOJA, E. 2010. Seeking Spatial Justice, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.
  58. 58. This presentation is available by Roberto RoccoChair of Spatial Planning and Strategy,TU Delftfor information, please contact